France will follow Britain’s lead by supplying Ukraine with longer-range missiles days after the UK’s Storm Shadow munitions were used to devastating effect against Russian forces behind the front line.
France has so far delivered Caesar self-propelled howitzers, Milan anti-tank missiles and Mistral anti-aircraft missiles, as well as light armoured vehicles known as AMX-10 RCs.
But it had stopped short of longer-range missiles that would allow Ukraine to strike deep into Russian territory.
However Emmanuel Macron, the French president, has confirmed: “We have decided to send over and above that, new munitions, new missiles that have a range that allows Ukraine to resist and to lead this (upcoming) counteroffensive.”
Britain announced last week that it had given Kyiv long-range cruise missiles that could strike Crimea and attack the crucial bridge linking Russia with mainland Ukraine.
Precision-guided weapons will push back Russian forces
Storm Shadow missiles, which are launched from warplanes, carry large warheads designed to destroy hardened and even buried targets.
The precision-guided weapons, which cost about £2.2 million each, would allow Ukraine to “push back Russian forces based within Ukrainian sovereign territory”, said Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, in the House of Commons last week.
The French equivalent is SCALP-EG, which stands for “Long Range Autonomous Cruise Missile System – General Purpose”.
Announcing the new missiles, Mr Macron added: “We are not supplying weapons that would be able to reach Russia. Sometimes we have to impose limits.”
Analysts have suggested that this could mean the French have asked for reassurances from the Ukrainians that longer-range missiles would not be used to hit Russian soil.
France open to training Ukrainian fighter jet pilots
Mr Macron also confirmed that France was open to training Ukrainian fighter jet pilots in France and that those training programmes could start right away.
Asked about delivering warplanes to Ukraine, Mr Macron said he had not discussed that with Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, during his visit to France this weekend.
“I have not talked about airplanes. I have talked about missiles. I have talked about training,” he said. Asked about training for Ukraine pilots on French warplanes, he said: “There are no taboos.
“We have opened the door to training pilots along with other European countries that are ready to do so. I believe discussions are underway with the Americans.”
He added that France’s strategy remains “to help Ukraine resist to bring everyone to the negotiating table”.
Storm Shadow cruise missiles were fired for the first time by Ukrainian forces last weekend, hitting a Russian supply depot and a military command centre 80 miles behind the front line.
The missile strikes appear timed to coincide with Ukrainian counter attacks this week on Russian positions around Bakhmut.
A factory used to store military equipment and a government building used to plan Russian attacks were destroyed in Luhansk City in the Storm Shadow missile attacks on Friday and Saturday, local media reported.
Russia’s ministry of defence confirmed the attacks but claimed that the missiles had hit residential buildings.